by Thanh Hà
Nguyễn Thị Thu Nhi bounces back and forth, landing punches at will. She bobs and weaves to avoid her opponent, and then finishes up with running and skipping.
Nhi is following the exhausting routine twice a day in preparation for her shot at the World Boxing Organisation title fight in either South Korea or Việt Nam this April. If she wins it will mark a new chapter in Việt Nam's boxing history because she would be the country’s first ever world champion.
Born in 1996 in HCM City, Nhi has been training since she was a little girl.
At school, she was encouraged to study martial arts or boxing. Nhi started with martial arts but her teacher said she was better suited to boxing.
“After a short time, I fell in love with boxing even though many people think it is a male sport,” Nhi told Việt Nam News.
From school, Nhi joined a class at the Lãnh Binh Thăng Gymnasium in 2009 from where she was picked for the HCM City Boxing Team just a few years later.
Nguyễn Thị Thu Nhi celebrates after winning her WBO Asia Pacific Boxing Title last week in Cambodia. Photo of Cocky Buffalo
The tiny girl helped the City dominate the national championships in the 45kg category from 2015-18, the National Sports Games in 2018 and the national cup from 2015-2019.
Apart from local amateur events, Nhi occasionally took part in professional bouts, recording three wins, one by knock-out.
During the WBO Oriental Youth Title Match she faced Kannika Bangnara of Thailand. Nhi landed a series of 11 punches in a row and floored her in 16 seconds.
But her most impressive win was the victory over three-time world champion Gretchen Abaniel of Australia at the Victory 8 Saigon Fight Night in 2018.
Her outstanding performance got the attention of Kim Sang Bum, owner of the HCM City-based Cocky Buffalo Gym, who invited Nhi to train at his venue. And Nhi turned pro late last year.
“It is my passion, then my national duty. Now boxing helps me to earn enough money to live on,” said Nhi.
“For the past 10 years boxing just about fed me, but I was unable to help out my family much.
“I used to think of giving up, you know, because doing something for 10 years is long enough to get bored.
“But becoming a pro fighter competing for Cocky, I will have chances to take part in hundred-million-đồng fights, which will change my life.”
Nguyễn Thị Thu Nhi (right) punches Kanyarat Yoohanngoh during the WBO Asia Pacific Boxing Title Match. Photo thethaohcm.vn
Recognising Nhi’s potential, Kim decided to sponsor her training and competitions. The South Korean also wants to push her onto the international stage.
“I've actually known her for a long time. I organised a friendly tournament in 2015 where she won a fight and I presented a prize to her myself. I really liked her and kept my eyes on her. It's destiny that she has come to me,” Kim told Việt Nam News.
“Nhi is a good girl. She has a sad soul but always comes out strong. It may be due to her family circumstances. She knows how to stand up and do everything herself. She is a woman of willingness and ambition, and she will do everything she can to make it. To me, she is a hero (in life),” said Kim, who is considered the ‘Park Hang-seo’ of boxing thanks to his contributions to the sport since he arrived here years ago.
“Nhi is a talent. She is going to be a world champion,” Kim said.
“She has good skills. She is a master of keeping her balance with great reactions and good core strength. Her only weak point is that sometimes she still makes mistakes and uses amateur moves which are not allowed in professional competitions.”
The first step for Nhi was a chance to vie for the WBO Asia Pacific Boxing Title last week in Cambodia.
Nhi faced Kanyarat Yoohanngoh of Thailand.
Kanyarat, who had recorded 11 pro matches with seven wins, was considered much more experienced than Nhi, who had only three wins under her belt.
However, Nhi won on points to claim Việt Nam’s first ever WBO female title.
The win earned Nhi the right for the World Boxing Organisation title.
“We have a plan to make her a world champion. In fact, she has run two thirds of the journey already. What she needs now is to improve on her technique because her rival will be Etsuko Tada of Japan, and she's tough," Kim said.
Tada has fought for 12 years in pro competitions and grabbed a number of titles. But with his crew’s support and Nhi’s efforts, the Vietnamese fighter has a great chance of being crowned champion.
“I have watched her fights online. She is really strong but I am also confident,” Nhi said.
“She is experienced, but I have been boxing for 10 years now. She has many titles but I am young and strong. I will fight with a free mind and confidence which will be important elements for the win.” VNS